Archaeological evidence indicates that France was inhabited some 400,000 years ago. Southwestern France has been especially rich in prehistoric finds, including fossils of Neanderthal Man and Cro-Magnon Man. Cave paintings dating from about the end of the last Ice Age have been found at Lascaux and other sites. There are massive stone monuments of unknown origin in the northwest and elsewhere; the oldest date to about 4500 B.C.

Important dates in France
58-51 B.C. Julius Caesar conquered Gaul.
A.D. 486 Clovis, a king of the Franks, defeated the Roman governor of Gaul.
800 Charlemagne became emperor of the Romans.
987 Hugh Capet was crowned king of France.
1302 Philip IV called together the first Estates-General, the ancestor of the French Parliament.
1309-1377 The popes lived in Avignon.
1337-1453 France defeated England during the Hundred Years' War.
1598 Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes, which gave limited religious freedom to Protestants.
1643-1715 Louis XIV ruled France, and consolidated the absolute authority of the French king.
1789-1799 The French Revolution took place. It ended absolute rule by French kings.
1792 The First Republic was established.
1799 Napoleon seized control of France.
1804 Napoleon founded the First Empire.
1814 Napoleon was exiled; Louis XVIII came to power.
1815 Napoleon returned to power, but was defeated at Waterloo. Louis XVIII regained the throne.
1848 Revolutionists established the Second Republic.
1852 Napoleon III founded the Second Empire.
1870-1871 Prussia defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War. The Third Republic was begun.
1914-1918 France fought on the Allied side in World War I.
1939-1940 France fought on the Allied side in World War II until defeated by Germany.
1940-1942 Germany occupied northern France.
1942-1944 The Germans occupied all France.
1946 France adopted a new constitution, establishing the Fourth Republic.
1946-1954 A revolution in French Indochina resulted in France's giving up the colony.
1949 France joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
1954 Revolution broke out in the French territory of Algeria.
1957 France joined the European Economic Community, which led to the country's eventual membership in the European Community and the European Union.
1958 A new constitution was adopted, marking the beginning of the Fifth Republic. Charles de Gaulle was elected president.
1962 France granted independence to Algeria.
1966 De Gaulle withdrew French troops from NATO.
1969 De Gaulle resigned as president.
1994 A railroad tunnel under the English Channel between France and Britain opened.